Walter Greenwood and the Spy: an Incredible Story

During the ten years I was working on my book on Walter Greenwood and Love on the Dole, I developed a perhaps slightly obsessive habit of searching any book, book index or database for any reference to him, his work or to anyone who worked with him (and was slightly if unfairly inclined to the belief that any good book would have such a reference). Since finishing the book in 2018, I have almost kicked the habit, but not quite. One October Friday afternoon in 2019 in an idle half hour at the end of the working week, I had a quick search on google books UK just, I think, for the words ‘Love on the Dole’. Somewhat to my surprise, I had some hits in a book called Daddy Was a German Spy and Other Scandals – a Memoir, by Brian Edwards, first published by Penguin New Zealand in 2008. The hits gave enough access to the text to show that Brian Edwards’ father (of whom more shortly) had made a claim (in the thirties?) that in fact he was the real co-author of the play adaptation of Love on the Dole (1935) rather than the accepted co-writer, Ronald Gow. This was an extraordinary claim from my point of view since there is a large amount of evidence that Greenwood and Gow did indeed collaborate on the play and that in fact the idea of a theatre adaptation of the novel was originally Gow’s. The evidence includes newspaper accounts by Gow of Greenwood’s and his first meeting, and their subsequent collaboration on the play, from 1934 (Hull Daily Mail, 9/6/1934, p.12) and 1935 (New York Times, 23/2/1935). Gow gave a further and similar account in 1967 when interviewed by Laurence Marcus for the TV Times (19/1/1967) for an article about the new Granada television adaptation of Love on the Dole screened that week. For his part Greenwood makes it clear, for example, in an interview with the Era periodical that he and Gow are co-authors of the play (6/2/1935, p. 6). Moreover, the play was always credited to both writers from the first performances and printed editions onwards. Nevertheless, I had to know more – I immediately bought a copy of Daddy Was a German Spy and began to read.

Daddy Was a German Spy

The first thing to say is that it is a well-written book and a good read (well worth getting hold of). The writer, Brian Edwards, was born in Cork in 1937, but brought up in Northern Ireland, mainly (as we shall again see) by his mother, Jane Edwards (she preferred to be known as Jean). (1) After gaining a BA (Hons) in Languages at Queen’s University Belfast, Brian Edwards completed a PhD in German at Edinburgh University, and was then appointed to a Lectureship in German at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1964. However, he fairly soon departed academia to become one of New Zealand’s most famous (and combative) radio and TV interviewers. His father, whom he mainly refers to as Arthur (as did Jean), was Leonard Robert Edwards. Or Leonard Robert Myram. Or James Arthur Edwards. Or perhaps Leonard Robert Maham – for various documents list each of these variations. (2) Arthur deserted his wife and child early so Brian Edwards never knew him (and his date and place of death is so far unknown). Arthur also turned out to be a bigamist, and nearly a repeat offender in that misdemeanour. The memoir therefore is in all substantial ways mainly a moving memoir of the devoted and under-funded upbringing of Brian by his mother in Belfast in the thirties, forties and fifties. The account is, though, haunted by that absent, elusive, unfixed father figure whom Edwards does everything possible to trace and track down. In the Acknowledgments, Edwards says that ‘in writing this book, I was daily confronted by the difficulty of distinguishing fact from fiction, not only in the lives of others but in my own life’. (3) Any memoirist might say the same, but for Brian Edwards this was more particularly true because of his father:

It doesn’t matter all that much, whether Arthur was a drunk, a wife-beater, a conman, a bigamist, a German spy … what matters is having enough pieces of the jig-saw to recognise the whole picture – your own picture… In Arthur’s case, many of the pieces are missing. Others just don’t fit. Much of my mother’s life also remains a mystery. (4)

My interest is, in a sense, peripheral to Brian Edwards’ important sense of lack, of absence, but nevertheless it too comes from one of the pieces of Arthur’s fragmented recovered identities. Brian was very keen to find out about his father from childhood onwards, but his mother was not keen to speak about him. Only after years of persistent questioning did her memories begin to be spoken (though Edwards very specifically also calls them stories – her stories of Arthur). One such memory or story was a precise one including the words which had led me in the first place to Daddy was a German Spy:

He could be charming and he was clever. He’d co-written a play called Love on the Dole with a man called Arthur Greenwood. The play was based on a novel that Greenwood had written and had been a big success. Arthur and Greenwood had fallen out and Greenwood had given the credit to someone else for helping him adapt the novel to the stage. Or so Arthur had said. (5)

The fact that Walter is here called Arthur (presumably through a not unprecedented confusion with the Labour Party Deputy Leader in the thirties, Arthur Greenwood) does not inspire immediate trust in the story. (6) However, this may be merely a slip on either Jean’s part or Brian’s rather than necessarily on Arthur’s – when the memoir next pursues the Greenwood story, the writer is correctly named Walter Greenwood without further comment. In fact, Brian Edwards then wrote to Greenwood’s publisher Jonathan Cape to ask if Walter Greenwood was still alive and to ask if they had ever heard of his father Arthur. Cape replied that Greenwood was by then no longer alive having died in 1974, and that they had not heard of Edwards’ father, nor ever heard the idea that he was a co-author of the play of Love on the Dole. The letter from Cape stated simply the received wisdom that Walter Greenwood was the sole author of the novel of Love on the Dole and that he and Ronald Gow were co-authors of the play adaptation.

Brian Edwards speculates that perhaps his father Arthur and Walter and maybe even Ronald Gow did maybe meet up in a London pub and have some conversation about the play. This speculation partly stems from another memory of his mother’s (confirmed by some other relatives and in the end by the company) that Arthur worked for a publisher, Butterworth’s, as an agent or traveller and that he might therefore have had contacts in the publishing world. (7) However, Butterworth’s specialised in legal books and indeed that was said to be Arthur’s line of work, so that does not obviously lead to likely contact with Greenwood or Gow. In the end Edwards concludes that:

The likelihood is that Arthur appropriated authorship of Greenwood’s work to impress my mother and anyone else who cared to listen. Scarcely the basis for accusing a respected author of plagiarism and theft. (8)

This is my conclusion too: it is an incredible story. But I retell it partly because it is fascinating in its own right, and partly because it is a perverse tribute to the fame of Walter Greenwood and his play. A fantasist and con-man chose the two as the raw materials for one of his impostures, and the claim was striking enough for Jean Edwards to remember it many years later.

And was Arthur also a German spy? Jean thought so. Brian Edwards sums up the evidence over some pages: according to Jean, Arthur expressed pro-German and pro-Hitler sympathies, he had German friends in the Republic of Ireland during the war, and he travelled regularly between London, Northern Ireland and the Republic at that time. (9) Finally, though Jean thought he was working for Butterworth’s at this period, in fact Butterworth’s were certain he left the company suddenly in 1940 and indeed expressed an interest in tracing him for reasons unstated, while Jean and other relatives report that he fell completely out of their sight between 1941 and 1943 and stopped answering letters. Brian Edwards thinks it more likely that Arthur was involved either with semi-criminal activity or nationalist politics (though that of course does not rule out some possible German connections). At school Brian thought this ‘story too good not to be true’:

Other kids … might have fathers who were lawyers or doctors or architects or detectives or airline pilots, but no one else had a father who was a German spy. So I milked the story for all it was worth. (10)

Walter Greenwood was (of course) my point of entry, but there are also many other reasons for reading this distinctive memoir of fact and fictions. Daddy Was a German Spy is now most readily available in a kindle edition from, as they say, all good bookshops. (11)

Note 1. See Wikipedia entry ( and his memoir itself.
Note 2. See kindle edition of Daddy Was a German Spy, (publication date not stated), location 4476. All subsequent references are to this edition.
Note 3. Location 43.
Note 4. Location 4483.
Note 5. Location 334.
Note 6. For example, T.C.K in the Birmingham Daily Post (10/4/1941, p.5) says that ‘Arthur Greenwood’s Love on the Dole has been faithfully translated to the screen by John Baxter’. For the real Arthur Greenwood see his Wikipedia entry:
Note 7a, Location 287.
Note 8. Location 423. I think the phrase ‘respected author’ here is intended to refer to Greenwood, though it could under the circumstances also apply to Gow.
Note 9. See locations 181 to 217.
Note 10. Location 223.
Note 11. In the UK see: